State public health officials today announced that influenza immunization will be required for all children 6 months of age or older who are attending Massachusetts child care, pre-school, kindergarten, K-12, and colleges and universities. The new vaccine requirement is an important step to reduce flu-related illness and the overall impact of respiratory illness during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Students will be expected to have received a flu vaccine by December 31, 2020 for the 2020-2021 influenza season, unless either a medical or religious exemption is provided. Also exempted are K-12 students who are homeschooled and higher education students who are completely off-campus and engaged in remote learning only. This new flu immunization requirement to enter school in January is in addition to existing vaccine requirements for all those attending child care, preschool, K-12, and colleges and universities in Massachusetts. Elementary and secondary students in districts and schools that are using a remote education model are not exempt.
“Every year, thousands of people of all ages are affected by influenza, leading to many hospitalizations and deaths,” said Dr. Larry Madoff, Medical Director, DPH’s Bureau of Infectious Disease and Laboratory Sciences. “It is more important now than ever to get a flu vaccine because flu symptoms are very similar to those of COVID-19 and preventing the flu will save lives and preserve healthcare resources.”
All children at least 6 months old who attend child care or preschool must be immunized in accordance with the ACIP Recommended Immunization Schedule.
All students in K-12 must receive the seasonal influenza vaccine annually by December 31. New students entering between January 1 and March 31 must have received a dose of vaccine for the current flu season before entry.
Depending on the child’s age and flu vaccination history, a second dose of flu vaccine in the same season may be recommended. In these cases, the second dose is not required for school entry.
For older students, the flu vaccine requirement applies to all full-time undergraduate and graduate students under 30 years of age and all full- and part-time health science students. The requirement includes individuals from outside the U.S. attending or visiting classes or educational programs in Massachusetts as part of an academic visitation or exchange program. The only exception is for college and university students who exclusively attend classes online and never visit campus in person. College students who attend any classes or activities on campus, even once, must be vaccinated by December 31.
The updated table of immunization requirements for the upcoming school year can be found at https://www.mass.gov/doc/immunization-requirements-for-school-entry-0/download.